“The Utah Jazz are very happy to announce, that we’re going to bring a Mailman...”
-Frank Layden, June 18, 1985.
It’s pretty incredible how those 15 words would begin a marriage between one person and one franchise that despite a few bumpy stretches is still intact and going strong 28 years later.
I’ve written extensively how Karl Malone could help Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter become better basketball players, but perhaps equally important are the ways Karl Malone could help Utah’s young players off the basketball court.
Karl Malone is his own man, who blazed many new trails on his way to becoming the league’s #2 all-time leading scorer and the greatest power forward in NBA history. During an 18-year NBA career he made Salt Lake City his home and became a foundation in the community. He lived out many of his dreams from being a truck driver, to professional wrestling, to owning a hunting cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. And he did it all while playing for the Jazz and living in Utah.
This is important because Utah fans have a deep-seeded fear of rejection from professional athletes. Perhaps starting with Derek Harper, further perpetuated by the likes of Miami residents Rony Seikaly and Carlos Boozer, and culminated in Deron Williams’ 2011 pre-emptive trade – Jazz fans have developed a phobia that great players will always want to leave Utah for brighter lights. There are already some fans who would prefer the Jazz land Jabari Parker in the 2014 NBA draft rather than Andrew Wiggins because of the notion that Parker’s faith (LDS) would make him more likely than Wiggins to embrace playing in Utah.
Presently Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors are eligible to sign long-term extensions prior to becoming restricted free agents in 2014. Alec Burks and Enes Kanter will be in the same position next offseason, and Utah has just added collegiate player of the year and Ohio-native Trey Burke.
With Malone back in the fold, the Jazz now have someone who not only can teach how to establish post position and run lanes wide – but also to tell how an NBA player can embrace Salt Lake City as a home where having a successful professional career, starting a family, and gaining fame and notoriety is all within their grasp. Even Brooklyn star PG Deron Williams, regarded by some as a Jazz-villain, still makes Utah his home in the offseason.
Salt Lake City will never become a free agent hot-spot, but it certainly won’t hurt to shake the ignorant misconceptions that professional athletes don’t want to play there and Malone is a great spokesman for that.
Karl Malone wasn’t perfect – he could be moody, he spoke his mind sometimes to a fault and made errors in judgment – but he owned up to his mistakes. He did it all in the public eye, where he matured from the 22-year old rookie who arrived from Louisiana in 1985 to the 50-year old man who still flies in to Utah periodically for business.
While it came as a surprise to us all back in May that Jazz CEO Greg Miller had patched things up with Karl to the point that they were both willing to work together to bring Malone in as a bigman coach – it’s not surprising that the Mailman is throwing his (cowboy) hat into the coaching ring.
In February of 2011, one day after Hall-of-Fame head coach Jerry Sloan retired* (*was forced out), Karl Malone gave his word that he would honor Sloan’s career by passing lessons learned from Jerry on. Speaking with reporters at Energy Solutions Arena, Malone said “At some point in my life, I will carry [Jerry Sloan’s] legacy on in some form of coaching, and that’s a promise.”
From his lengthy phone interview on 1280 The Zone in May, Malone stated he not only wants to teach Utah’s bigmen how to play, but also how to give back. The concept of giving more than was given to you is something that Malone has touched on several times over the past 15 years. It was mentioned in his closing remarks of a 2001 Beyond The Glory documentary, reiterated the night in 2006 he had his Jazz jersey retired and again at his Hall-of-Fame induction speech in 2010.
Karl Malone made himself into a great player without the hands-on mentorship of a former great to guide him. Now he’s offering to share his knowledge, expertise and time to make the Jazz a better franchise.
Malone threw down somewhat of a gauntlet in a recent interview with Brad Rock of the Deseret News where he stated that “without a doubt” both Favors and Kanter have All-Star potential. “These guys have the talent to be as good or as great as they want to be,” Malone said. He had touted Favors earlier in the summer, saying “the skill set he’s got is absolutely unbelievable.”
That statement along with Malone’s comments back in May and tutorials that include a summer trip to Louisiana as well as recent post-practice lessons with the Mailman back in Utah all make one thing obvious:
Karl Malone is not only challenging them to be the best they possibly can be as players, but also as people – and that’s something we all should strive for.
To close, it’s important to remember that while it’s completely unfair to expect Trey Burke to be the next John Stockton or Favors and Kanter to be the next Karl Malone, there are a lot of things that can be taken from Stockton and Malone as both athletes and people that can help young players maximize their potential. Burke, Favors and Kanter all are different athletes with their own styles, games and personalities – but having two of the best ever to help teach them should have nothing but positive affects over the next few seasons.
28 years after they first became Utah Jazz teammates, Stockton&Malone are still helping the Jazz organization try to achieve greatness – along with Jerry Sloan. That famed trio never won the elusive ring they sought year after year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have an effect on the Jazz one day competing for a title in the future. Never underestimate those guys – they’re pretty special.